Officer could be added

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By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

As originally proposed, Keizer would be getting two additional patrol officers as part of the 2015-16 budget.

One of those positions could end up being added earlier.

Well, kind of, sort of.

During the first budget committee meeting of the year May 6, city manager Chris Eppley proposed adding three new positions later this year: a computer forensics person for the police department, a code enforcement officer and an information system technician.

At the same time, Eppley proposed adding two patrol officers the following year. However, some committee members asked about moving up that timeframe.

Eppley worked with Finance Director Susan Gahlsdorf and had a revised proposal for the May 8 budget meeting: adding a patrol officer this coming fiscal year – but not until January.

“We do listen to this group,” Eppley said. “At least a chunk of the group wants to pay for at least part of a patrol officer position. Susan has come up with a methodology that does work, but it requires some sacrifices.”

For one thing, anticipated PERS (Public Employees Retirement Systems) increases of 16 percent would have to be around 8 or 10 percent, which would represent savings of $50,000 to $60,000. Gahlsdorf said such savings would make the position sustainable over the long-term.

“PERS has to come in lower than anticipated in September,” Eppley said. “That could happen. If we take the other three positions and push (starting dates) to October instead of September, that creates $20,000. We have $20,000 set aside for a readerboard at the civic center. If we incorporate that reserve, we could fund that position.”

Gahlsdorf said a traffic officer costs about $110,000 for a full year, including all benefits. The officer would be using a motorcycle the Keizer Police Department already owns. Hiring midway through the budget year would mean a cost of about $55,000.

“The position would be budgeted to start in January,” Gahlsdorf said. “The officer reasonably could generate $20,000 in revenue, plus you’d have $20,000 in savings by pushing the other positions to October, plus the $20,000 put aside for the readerboard.”

Gahlsdorf said the city’s long-range budget plan assumes a 16 percent increase in PERS beginning July 1, 2015 and for the next two years, as rates are locked in for a two-year period.

“If rates come in at 8 percent or less it will free up those funds to pay the cost of this police officer position during that two-year period,” she said. “That is the level of sustainability we need.”

Since the PERS rates for the future won’t be known until September, Gahlsdorf said the hiring date for the three other new positions will be set for October, not September.

“We can’t turn back the clock at that point and hire before we even know what the PERS rates are going to do,” she said.

So if PERS comes in at 16 percent, what would happen with the $40,000 created by pushing back the hiring dates and the readerboard funds?

“The $40,000 will stay in the general fund and be available for other uses during the year or in future years,” Gahlsdorf said. “A budget adjustment could be done during fiscal year 2014-15 to use those funds for other things.”

Mayor Lore Christopher liked the idea.

“I’m in,” she said.

City councilor Jim Taylor appreciated the work done between budget meetings.

“This just shows what a great staff we have,” Taylor said. “This committee came up with a request. We thought there wasn’t the money. This doesn’t adversely affect a thing, aside from the one month delay.”

Councilor Dennis Koho, chair of this year’s budget committee, had some reservations.

“I don’t want to throw cold water on this, but I will,” Koho said. “Our wish list also includes helping out the parks and the library. Those issues are gone with this proposal. You lose the (spending) flexibility if you spend it on a police officer.”

The budget committee wrapped up on Tuesday.

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